Environmentalists: Kenyan Avocado Farm Would Block Elephant Movements

07 March 2021

A proposed new avocado farm in Kenya would block the movements of elephants and other wildlife near a major national park.

Local conservation activists say the farm would cut off the free movement of about 2,000 elephants living in the area around Amboseli National Park. The park is in southern Kenya near the border with Tanzania.

Elephants are seen within the Kimana Sanctuary, part of a crucial wildlife corridor that links the Amboseli National Park to the Chyulu Hills and Tsavo protected areas, within the Amboseli ecosystem in Kimana, Kenya February 8, 2021. (REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya)
Elephants are seen within the Kimana Sanctuary, part of a crucial wildlife corridor that links the Amboseli National Park to the Chyulu Hills and Tsavo protected areas, within the Amboseli ecosystem in Kimana, Kenya February 8, 2021. (REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya)

The area is also home to other wildlife, including giraffes, zebras and hippos.

Kenyan agriculture company KiliAvo Fresh Ltd has farms near Amboseli on nearly 70 hectares of land. The company is preparing to grow avocados which have been rising in popularity around the world.

Conservationists say the new farm and an electric fence around it will block the path of animals moving between Amboseli and other national parks nearby. The parks bring large numbers of tourists from around the world. Area tourism is mostly related to safaris. Tourism brought in about $1.6 billion in 2019 to the country.

But avocado farming also brings in a lot of money. With ideal conditions for growing avocados, Kenya's export earnings rose 33 percent to about $127 million in the past year to October 2020.

KiliAvo says it received government approval in mid-2020 to begin work on the farm after presenting an environmental report. Jeremiah Salaash is a shareholder in KiliAvo and runs a farm for the company. "Local people here all know the project and they are happy because it's another source of employment and of making their land have value," Salaash told Reuters news agency.

However, Kenya's National Environment Management Agency ordered work halted last September. The agency said it wanted to withdraw the permission to build the new farm. Lawyers representing KiliAvo say the company has appealed that decision.

The agency's acting director, Mamo Mamo, told Reuters it first decided to approve the farm plans because of support of the project by the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust. The trust is a coalition that includes community groups and government representatives. But the agency said it changed its position after that organization withdrew its approval.

Conservationists say blocking the elephants could harm their population and the large tourism trade.

Vicki Fishlock is a scientist working for the Amboseli Elephant Trust group. "We can't just say to the elephants: ‘Would you mind not going that way because we have decided that we are going to do stuff here?'" she told Reuters.

Blocking the animals "would surely kill the sanctuary as it depends on the animals migrating from Amboseli," added Samuel Kaanki. He leads a group of 342 members of the Maasai tribe who own more than 8,000 hectares where elephants live.

Kaanki said the elephants would seek other paths if they are blocked by farms like KiliAvo's or others. "This would...result in massive human-wildlife conflicts."

Lawyers for KiliAvo say the farm sits about 17 kilometers away from Amboseli within an area approved for farming. The company also noted the project has been good for the local economy. It says the farm employs about 300 workers and established new technology in the area.

The lawyers for KiliAvo also told Reuters that those who are opposed to the project have "mischaracterized" it for their own gain. They said the company is being mistreated.

Another conservation group, Big Life Foundation, released video from October of four gazelles that appeared to be trapped on one side of the fence and could not pass through. It also said the fence was damaged at least three times last month by elephants.

"If they are trapped in one place, populations will collapse," said Big Life project manager Ernest Lenkoina.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

conservationn. the protection of animals, plants and natural resources

tourist n. someone who travels to another place for pleasure

safarin. a trip to see or hunt animals, especially in Africa

source n. someone or something that provides what is wanted or needed

sanctuaryn. a place where people or animals are given protection and shelter

mischaracterizev. to wrongly characterize; to wrongly describe the qualities, or character, of a person

manager n. someone who is oversees a business or department of an organization